Fiona Kidman is a leading contemporary novelist, short story writer and poet. Much of her fiction is focused on how outsiders navigate their way in narrowly conformist society. She has published a large and exciting range of fiction and poetry, and has worked as a librarian, producer and critic. Kidman has won numerous awards, and she has been the recipient of fellowships, grants and other significant honours, as well as being a consistent advocate for New Zealand writers and literature. She is the President of Honour for the New Zealand Book Council, and has been awarded an OBE and a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to literature.
Place of residence: Wellington, New Zealand
Fiona Kidman's The Book of Secrets won the 1988 New Zealand Book Award for Fiction. She received the A.W. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2001 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
She has published several further collections of short stories since her entry in the Oxford Companion was published: The House Within (1997), a collection of linked stories; The Best of Fiona Kidman's Short Stories (1998), and A Needle in the Heart (2002). A Needle in the Heart is a collection of six stories linked by a central issue in the lives of the main characters. They are generally stories about country women, whose children have grown up and moved away to the cities, while they have remained surrounded by tight communities and an enfolding countryside.
She also edited New Zealand Love Stories: An Oxford Anthology (2000), and The Best New Zealand Fiction Volume 1 (Random House, 2004), Volume 2 (2005) and Volume 3 (2006).
The novel Songs from the Violet Cafe was published in 2003: a woman rows across a lake with a small part-Asian child. The woman is Violet Trench, who in future years will run the Violet Cafe with an iron will. Those who work for Violet Trench come from a diverse range of backgrounds, but none ever forget the flavour of the summer working at the Violet Cafe - the surprising allure of the truffle that infused the cafe's food.
‘Songs from the Violet Cafe is a fine book beautifully written. From the "uneasy earth" of Rotorua to the "immense bright terrifying landscape" of Cambodia, the novel's settings are vivid and adroit. It contains much potential sensation - domestic violence, illicit sexual connections, deaths and disappearances, and the desolation and venality of a country at war - but there's also a wry humour, every intense emotion and extreme event filitered through Kidman's cool precise prose.' Dominion Post
Kidman's novel The Captive Wife (Random House, 2005) is a fictionalised account of actual events: the kidnapping by Taranaki Maori and subsequent violent rescue of Betty Guard and her two children in 1834. As well as telling a story of love and the quest for freedom in the pioneering age, The Captive Wife reflects the social and sexual politics of early New Zealand. The novel was a fiction category runner-up and jointly received the Readers' Choice Award with Maurice Gee at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
Siobhan Harvey wrote of The Captive Wife in the New Zealand Herald: 'A clever beautifully written novel, The Captive Wife reminds us what an intelligent and skilful writer Kidman is…..Fiona Kidman: the words have come to mean terrific fiction underpinned by a sound female conscience. If The Captive Wife is anything to go by, Kidman’s luminous literary standing is assured for many years to come.'
In 2003, she travelled to the Brisbane Writers' Festival as part of the New Zealand Book Council's Trans-Tasman Exchange, and took part in the Book Council’s WOW (Writers on Wheels) in the City tour of Auckland. In 2006, the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship took her to Menton, France.
Kidman was the 2008 Creative New Zealand Michael King Fellow. She was also the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Centre) President of Honour 2008/2009, and is the President of Honour of the New Zealand Book Council.
In 2008, Kidman published the first volume of her memoirs, At the End of Darwin Road (Vintage).
‘She moves beyond family history to share reflections on 45 years as a modern woman writer, stating that: “What I have to tell is largely a personal narrative about how I came to inhabit a fictional world." This is like the autobiography of Mansfield that we do not have . . . Kidman also celebrates the significance of her very special partner (Ian Kidman), gives bracing insights into adopting children and acknowledges female role models.’ Bruce Harding, The Press, Christchurch
The second volume of memoir, Beside the Dark Pool, was published in June 2009.
Kidman's most recent work is Where Your Left Hand Rests, published in 2010 by Random House. From imagining her Irish grandmothers' arrival in New Zealand, to wearing Katherine Mansfield's shawl, to time spent in Greece and in her garden, the poems in Kidman's new collection are by turns tender and funny, candid and brave, and bear all the hallmarks of her writing: acute observation, a telling eye for detail, a wry humour and great empathy.
Also in 2010, Kidman’s sculpture on the Wellington Writers’ Walk was unveiled on the Wellington waterfront.
The Trouble With Fire was published by Random House in 2010. A collection of long short stories that interrogate the intensity of human emotion, The Trouble With Fire tells tales that span centuries, from the colonial era to the present. Andrew McNulty said of the collection: “Whether raging, dying or smouldering away ominously, the fires of passion, anger and desire represent the inner lives of a diverse range of characters, while the vibrant colours, smells and sinuous movement of flame provide a beautifully sensual backdrop across the collection” (NZ Listener).
Kidman was the recipient of the 2011 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement, in the Fiction section.
In its award season, The Trouble With Fire was shortlisted for the Fiction section of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards. It was also shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize.
2013 saw the publication of Kidman’s novel The Infinite Air, a fictionalization of legendary female aviator Jean Batten’s life. Veined through with mystery, family tensions, and the lure of fame, the novel presents the life of the daring flyer with intensity and tenderness. The Infinite Air was reviewed by David Hill of the NZ Listener: “Batten's character drives the story, and Kidman takes us into and through her complex, often agonised but unstoppable psyche”.
In 2015, Kidman’s short story The Road to Lost Places was included in Lonely Planet’s Better than Fiction 2: True Adventures from 30 Great Fiction Writers.
Kidman’s latest collection of short stories, titled The Change in the Light, was published in March 2016.
Last updated March 2016.
writers in schools information
Fiona Kidman is available to visit high school students as part of the Writers in Schools programme. She enjoys discussing writing fiction, and the craft of writing in general, with the groups. She prefers to speak to only one class at a time.